Hidden Adventures: Shinzen Friendship Garden

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's a hidden oasis.

So serene and so quiet, you forget you're in Fresno.

In the middle of the dry, hot Valley, water falls and flows throughout the Shinzen Friendship Garden.

"Design started in the early 70's and then constructed started late 70's," says Shinzen Friendship Garden President Ron Yamabe.

Shinzen was developed as an expression of friendship between Fresno and its sister city, Kochi, Japan, following World War II.

After the donation of land by Ralph Woodward, the five-acre Garden was dedicated in 1981.

The beauty of the garden seen today is possible through a partnership with the Shinzen Friendship Garden organization and the City of Fresno.

"The City of Fresno takes care of the heavy operation in terms of the irrigation system and the big trees, wheras our volunteers prune all of the smaller trees and all of the shrubs to keep the Japanese appearance," Yamabe said.

Yamabe is the president of the organization and also serves as the volunteer coordinator.

His passion for gardening led him to Shinzen and is now able to share his knowledge about the Garden with visitors.

"When you're taking a view of any direction, you can't see a long ways away," he said. "Then when you move up to the next area, you look and you're going to see something completely different."

Visitors are surrounded by the elegance and simplicity of Japanese designs as they walk through the four seasons of the Garden - Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

"Each of the areas that are designated for that season, the plants that are planted in those areas are the ones that thrive during those particular seasons," Yamabe said.

Beyond the blooming flowers and vibrant colors, a koi pond sits below an arched double-moon bridge.

Thats's just one of several features inside the Garden. There's also peacocks, a Bonsai collection and a traditional Japanese Tea House.

"The tea house is from Japan," says executive director Casey Lamonski. "They dismantled it, shipped it over here and reassembled it. So we have some authentic things here."

Lamonski says the upkeep of the Garden is key.

Volunteers such as Roger Tsuruda make that possible. He and the others have a lot of pride in their work.

"If we don't maintain some authenticity, it's just going to turn into a nice greenspace with Japanese garden features," he said.

Tsuruda volunteers with his wife at the Garden, trimming shrubs and even feeding the Garden's resident ducks.

In the 10 years he's volunteered, he says there's something new he learns about the garden every day, sharing what's known about the three-ton stone lantern that sits above the bridge.

As the story goes, it was given to the city in 1939 by the Japanese Business Association and placed in Roeding Park until it went missing after World War II.

"The story was they flew a helicopter over the backyard, saw this big lantern in the backyard and that's how we got it back," Tsuruda said.

It's these stories and hidden treasures, amidst the lush beauty, that leave visitors in awe.

"I will commonly find people sitting on a bench by themselves just looking out," Tsuruda said.

The organization and its volunteers hope the Garden stays in Fresno's backyard, but a lack of funding continues.

However, the group remains resilient, sharing the peaceful, scenic views with all those who visit.
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